Airline executives say COVID tests for passengers on US flights not feasible, fair or needed: ‘It’s wholly impractical’

“A mistake.”

“Wholly impractical.”

“A real goat rodeo.”

Southwest Airlines’ top two executives had choice words Thursday about mandatory COVID-19 testing on flights within the U.S., a policy the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week said is under consideration.

And they weren’t alone.

The president of JetBlue Airways bluntly said the airline doesn’t support the measure.

The CEO of American Airlines took a more diplomatic stance but said testing all passengers would be difficult and “would have us testing Americans on airplanes that we all know are safe to be on.”

The airline officials, asked about the CDC proposal by Wall Street analysts and reporters on their earnings conference calls Thursday, said they didn’t have much, if any, information on what’s on the table.

“It’s not clear if, when, what, how we’d be asked to do that,” Southwest Airlines President Tom Nealon said.

“It hasn’t been floated to us,” American CEO Doug Parker said. “We haven’t heard anything directly from regulators or others about that possibility.”

Parker and others have said they supported the addition of COVID testing on international flights to the U.S. because it was seen as a way to reopen international borders. Industry officials had hoped the new testing regime would result in a reduction in quarantines and other international travel restrictions, especially for Europe travel, but those have not yet been relaxed.

The prospect of domestic testing was raised in a media briefing on Tuesday with Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. 

His comments came the same day a COVID testing requirement went into effect for all passengers boarding international flights to the U.S. Travelers will be denied boarding unless they provide a negative test result taken no more than three days prior to their flight or show proof of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months.

On Wednesday, new CDC director Rochelle Walensky, appeared to double down on the idea of mandatory testing on domestic flights during a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper.

Walensky said there is money in the budget to boost the availability of COVID-19 tests, with much of it designated for testing in schools.

“But I would like to really see much of that budget, and I think the Biden administration (does) as well, to use it for high-risk activities, and one of those high-risk activities would be for travel and domestic flights.” 

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